03 April 2009
Rizal and Spanish
Ante Radaic, the Yugoslavian who wrote in Spanish about Philippine novelist Jose P. Rizal, was the first (and, as far as I know, the only) one to point out that Rizal wrote so much because of inferiority complex. Is it possible that what was obvious to Radaic (but not to all other critics that read Rizal in translation) is obvious only because of language? Radaic, unlike most readers today, read Rizal in the original Spanish (as did Rizal's Spanish biographer Jose Baron Fernandez, who also holds the singular view that Rizal's Spanish was pretty bad). Not reading Rizal in Spanish has made many literary critics say silly things, ranging from Rizal being a coward (provoking Spanish-speaking Nick Joaquin's spirited defense of Rizal against Radaic) to Rizal being a superhero (see the surprising defense of Rizal by leading Filipino-American critic E. San Juan Jr.). Multilingual critics have their work cut out for them: since they are the only ones capable of reading authors in the authors' original languages, they are the only ones that can truly appreciate what the authors are able to do. After all, as all writers know, a lot of effort goes into making words sound alike, have double meanings, fit into a musical rhythm, and so on, and translations, no matter how skilled the translators, do not capture this wrestle with words. What is lost in translation is also lost in criticism.